COVID-19, and the measures taken by governments worldwide to prevent its further spread, have a major impact on the lives of the girls and their families we work for. Now that schools have been closed almost everywhere and meetings and travel are forbidden, are we still able to work towards our goal and implement the six programme strategies? What about strategy 4 during lockdown: strengthening the economic security of girls and their families during lockdown?
In the communities where Her Choice operates, girls and women are already in a vulnerable position, but now, in addition to the health risk of COVID-19, they are at great risk of becoming victims of poverty, which is rapidly worsening as a result of the crisis, and increasing domestic violence. Therefore, all ten Her Choice countries have developed an adapted plan for the Her Choice programme. These plans are based upon the recommendations from Girls Not Brides. In the adapted plan, Her Choice will focus on activities that strengthen the safety and well-being of our target group, while continuing to use the six programme strategies. This approach enables Her Choice to continue to contribute to the programme results.
Regarding strategy 4 (strengthening the economic security of girls and their families) Her Choice partners link up extra vulnerable persons in the Her Choice communities to existing government support programs like food relief. Marginalized and hungry people are being identified, including the female headed households, households headed by differently able persons, and those who lost their livelihood due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Benin we ensure that the products and services of the local banks are still accessible for families. Local partner The Hunger Project Benin supports self-help groups to access loans to procure agriculture inputs, as the communities prepare for planting season. Miet Chielens, coordinator of Her Choice at The Hunger Project Nederland, explains: ‘In Africa, we provide seed capital for the banks and ensure that vulnerable families can continue to access the credit services. Besides that, we provide sanitizers and soap, and install hand washing techniques for the bank offices. The Hunger Project also provides technical support in revising the billow to prolong members’ loan repayment time in response to COVID-19 crises.’
In Asia, the emphasis is more on mobilizing ‘community philanthropy’ to assist the identified households who are in dire needs. The Hunger Project Bangladesh, for example, makes use of its broad volunteer movement. In almost 4,000 villages in rural areas THP Bangladesh reaches over 5 million people with thousands of volunteers. Village Development Teams – with trained women, men, young people and influential senior citizens – hand out posters about COVID-19 in the village. They are fighting fake news and ferocious rumours about the virus. And they fill small bottles of soap for their fellow villagers and make sure there are more places where people can wash their hands.
The Hunger Project Bangladesh also makes use of the natural familiarity of director Badiul Majumdar. Through Facebook videos, Badiul, together with an expert, provided information about the virus, and on a popular Facebook page he called on the 70,000 followers to be alert and take responsibility.
On its own initiative, Dalit, local partner in Bangladesh of Her Choice alliance member ICDI, organized a relief distribution program together with the Department of Social Welfare. Since Dalit has no emergency relief fund, the staff of the organization paid the equivalent amount of a one-day salary to Dalit to provide food to the most vulnerable people. As a result, relief bags with rice, lentils, cooking oil, salt, soap and potatoes were distributed this week to 140 families of extreme poor and untouchable communities in Khulna city.
In several Her Choice countries local partners are organizing activities aimed at the production of soap and food, while reducing the number of people per working group. Also, several local partners are looking into the possibilities of establishing a food bank to support vulnerable families. Odilia van Manen, Her Choice’s programme manager, sees that partner organisations are working hard on food supply and income generating activities: ‘In Mali, for example, this takes the form of small cash donations.’
 Research has taught us that the number of child marriages increases explosively in times of crisis and pandemics. We are therefore concerned about the consequences of this crisis on the wellbeing of our main target group: girls and women.
 Girls not Brides has developed a brief on child marriage and COVID-19 for all their development partners, including civil society and governments. It provides insights, recommendations and resources for responding to the needs of adolescent girls during and after this crisis, including those at risk of early marriage, married girls, and those in informal unions.